Can truth in politics extinguish the raging fire?
Did you catch the US inauguration? Although not celebrated as a speech maker, America’s new president gave a powerful speech. Two themes particularly resonated with me.
First, President Joe Biden cautioned: “Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn't have to be a cause for total war.”
Political debates, even deeply passionate ones, are better conducted with civility and respect.
When someone attacks the person — rather than the policy — there’s usually a reason. When the individual is challenged — instead of the idea — you should stop and ask yourself: why?
The answer may be that by “attacking the messenger”, it deflects from the message.
A second theme threaded the President’s inaugural address: it was about truth in politics.
Biden warned: “We must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.”
The President continued: “There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens … to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”
Wise words: as citizens, we must question what is said. Yet we must also question why it is being said.
Identifying truth is not easy — it requires critical thinking, perhaps even a touch of cynicism. You can neither defend the truth nor defeat the lies if you cannot tell the difference.
Of blogs and bravery
Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later…
After my last op-ed, one of those nice, cuddly, anonymous bloggers — commenting below — called me a liar. I’ve been called worse, of course. And, since I am now “in politics”, it was only a matter of time until someone chucked “liar” my way. What is more interesting is how they did it.
Have you seen The Wizard of Oz? Do you remember near the end, when Dorothy and her traveller trio arrive at the Emerald City? It is there they discover the truth about the Wizard — trickery and artifice.
Well, let me pull back the curtain on a different trick — one which, unfortunately, is increasingly deployed in politics. It’s a trick of misdirection. A critic takes what you actually said. Then suggests you said (or meant) something quite different. Then attacks you for something you never actually said.
And from this deceitful spark, doused by social media, Biden’s political firestorm rages…
So how do we defeat the lies? And can the truth extinguish the political fire? It’s nice to think it might, but as long ago as 1710, the writer Jonathan Swift lamented how “falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it”.
So it goes.
Presidents and monarchs
With Parliament in recess, let me end with something outside of politics. A few months back, I wrote about Bermudian avocados, with a surprising amount of interest. So, at the risk of straying into Nature Notes territory, let me make another outdoor observation. Have you noticed more butterflies around the island?
Last week I saw a massive monarch. But this was only my latest spotting. Mostly it’s the smaller yellow ones. Some umber monarchs, too, last week’s one being the largest. Perhaps it’s being home more during Covid. But doesn’t there seem to be more of late?
To discover the answer, I must ask my friend the horticulturalist — he who answered my questions avocado. Anyway, it’s nice to see Bermuda’s butterflies flourishing. If, in fact, it’s true that they are?
• Scott Pearman is Shadow Minister for Legal Affairs and Transport, and the MP for Paget East (Constituency 22). He can be reached at email@example.com